Coexistence between nature and human in Japanese Satoyama Life


Professor, YASUDA WOMEN’s University, Hiroshima, Japan

Japan is a forest nation where forests cover about 70% of the country. Japanese life has been deeply connected to forests since ancient times. Among these forests, Satoyama is a nature that humans have access to, and they represent a state where both nature and humans coexist. A Sato is literally a village, and a Yama is a mountain. However, this coexistence between nature and humans has not been easily realized. For thousands of years, Japanese people have been seeking out to coexist with nature, by protecting nature and overfishing for thousands of years alternately. Today, let’s look at four examples of how Japanese people have raised Satoyama.

The first example is the relationship between cherry blossom viewing and the Japanese. Japanese people have historically liked the season when cherry blossoms in spring are in full bloom. Every March to April, you can see many people gathering under cherry blossoming trees such as forests, parks, and riverbanks. While enjoying the beautiful cherry blossoms, he seems to enjoy the instinct that has been historically incorporated into the nation. Japan is a nation whose main staple is rice, which can be obtained from rice cultivation. When people did not have precise calendar and the certain sense of the season, the blossoming of cherry blossoms was a signal to soon plant rice. The Japanese had prayed to the cherry blossoms in full bloom and the good harvest of rice for that year to the cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms loved by people since ancient times are the original scenery of Satoyama.

Let’s look at an example of realizing the preciousness of lost nature. The second example is the relationship between forest and sea. Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, 300 km north of Tokyo, has been a source of oysters since 16th century. Here, white oysters began to turn red from the 1960’s when Japanese economy had grown rapidly. The cause was red tide caused by household and industrial wastewater. They were called blood oysters and could not be shipped, and many fishermen gave up on the sea and landed. Then the wastewater was controlled by the subsequent tightening of regulations by the local government, but oysters could not be harvested as before. “Is there any other cause?” One fisherman, Hatakeyama, visited palaces to harvest oysters in other parts in Japan and Brittany, France, where oysters had been transported from Miyagi, in order to find out initiative to restore the sea for oysters. Such rich fishing grounds had big rivers which had rich forests upstream. The forest upstream of the Okawa River pouring into Kesennuma was damaged by overfishing during the high economic growth period and then neglected to take care. The rich fishing grounds do not exist alone. The rich forests are nurturing rich seas with rich fishing grounds. Hatakeyama found that “The forest is longing for the sea, the sea is longing for the forest”.

From 1989, Hatakeyama began planting trees upstream of Okawa River. It is the beginning of fishermen’s tree planting. In 1993, the study by Hokkaido University proved that “90% of the iron, nitrogen, and phosphorus that nurture the plant phytoplankton in the sea of Kesennuma is supplied by Okawa.” The source of Okawa River’s nutrients is the fallen leaves of broad-leaved trees in the Satoyama forest of the basin. Satoyama’s bounty nutrients grow phytoplankton. Oysters that cannot swim eat phytoplankton that live in the sea. The oysters make people’s tables lively. Ten years after the tree planting, the former sea has returned to Kesennuma. The rich oysters have grown, and the eel fry that has disappeared has returned. Satoyama and Satoumi (Village Sea) are networked through rivers. Hatakeyama’s tree-planting campaign has become an NPO, and is also planting forests in people’s mind networks.

Let’s look at initiatives by companies. As the third example, I introduce the making of Satoyama in a city. Housing manufacturer Sekisui House has been promoting the “Five Trees” plan for a landscaping and greening project that considers biodiversity since 2001. By creating small “Satoyamas” in their home garden, they are trying to connect with the local nature and maintain and restore the dying ecosystem network. The Five Trees plan envisions three native bird species and two for butterflies. By carefully planting native tree species that are closely related to the life of living creatures in harmony with the climate of various parts of Japan, they aim to create gardens that coexist with familiar nature and deepen residents’ attachment over time. Even if a small garden is set up in a city with trees planting, the area of such house becomes a place where insects such as butterflies, birds and other creatures come to visit. If we create any such space in a city, the city will be a place where these creatures live and a corridor for movement of these creatures by creating a food chain between creatures and ecological networks. This ecosystem network enriches local and eventually all over the Japanese biodiversity. These spaces are not only accessible places for birds and insects, but also places where residents can enjoy the richness of nature. For example, deciduous(落葉の) broad-leaved trees that serve as feed for wild birds not only block strong sunlight due to the shade of greenery in summer, but also produce cool air due to the transpiration of leaves. Evergreens, on the other hand, maintain a green landscape all year round, providing shelter for small wild birds to hide from birds of prey. In addition, it becomes a blindfold for the residents from the street, adding color to the town in winter. The deliberately developed green is an important element that grows over time, cultivates attachment to the living environment and increases the asset value of houses and towns. The total number of trees planted by “Five Trees” plan has exceeded 15 million, making it a new type of Satoyama.

The fourth example introduces the case where AEON, the largest distribution company group in Asia, cooperates with UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve (BR). Aya BR, one of its representatives, carries out tree planting and environmental education, and local community, local government and corporate stakeholders work together to carry out Satoyama conservation activities. This is a good example of creating a sustainable ecosystem. Please see Ms. Yamamoto’s article for details.

Satoyama’s efforts share the tradition and values of HIMA, which has been working on the coexistence of the people in the region and all living things such as wild animals, birds, insects and threes. The wisdom that Lebanon and Japan have each nurtured will be in a position to disseminate insight and best practices a model of a global community that seeks sustainability.

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